'Oprah Winfrey Show' Ends, but Oprah's Legacy Lives On

Article excerpt

With the finale of 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' on Wednesday, critics are debating the real legacy of the woman who transformed the daily talk show from a tabloid sideshow into a national self-help platform.

Oprah Winfrey winds up her role as daily TV host Wednesday, but she is not so much leaving a job as reinventing herself - again. For while her syndicated show is ending its 25-year run, the billionaire media mogul is already up to her eyeballs in her next venture, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), the cable channel that launched in January.

Fans are mourning the loss of their daily "Oprah Winfrey Show" fix, while critics are debating the real legacy of the woman who transformed the daily talk show from a tabloid sideshow into a national self-help platform.

Ms. Winfrey herself is busy showing what has turned the impoverished young girl from Mississippi into a classic, American icon. "She is the great American story," says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. "Oprah's story is the traditional, rags-to-riches journey full of supersized hyperbole," he says, adding that America is steeped in the mythology of the makeover.

This is a country with a huge psychological and physical appetite for self-redefinition, "and Oprah fits right into that story line," Mr. Thompson says.

Winfrey's show and success is the black female version of author Horatio Alger, says David Canton, director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Connecticut College in New London. "An African-American woman captured the hearts and minds of middle- and upper-middle-class whites," he says via e-mail. "Focusing on common themes that affect all people, whites were able to 'look beyond' her race."

Mr. Canton adds, "Oprah has donated millions to charity and has provided employment opportunities for many."

The daytime diva's devotion to showing viewers how to be their best selves inspired millions of women - and men - to make changes in their lives. But she's also demonstrated what real media power means in the 21st century, says Leonard Shyles, communications professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. …